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Obsidian, a ‘Lost Forest’ and 1,500 Miles over Back Roads

Do readers know Oregon has a “Lost Forest”? Excuse me, the state is covered in forest, how could some of it become “lost”? The answer follows as adventures on Oregon’s back roads are shared.

Rockhounding is a great excuse for senior citizens to get outdoors and hit the road. Lots of wide open spaces to drive through in the middle of nowhere to a mineral deposit and social distancing and masks are not required. There’s nobody out there. But after 1,500 miles following back roads on a map there is a delight to be discovered in road and place names and signs.

Many names feature critters. There was Horseshoe Way, Salmon Street, Buzzard’s Roost, Goose Valley, Duck Creek Drive, Sage-Hen Hill Road, Steelhead Court, Jackrabbit Flat, Crane Creek, Fossil Lake, Antelope Valley and Sasquatch Circle. Signs directed drivers to a choice of Still Water Way as opposed to Churning Creek Road, Shady Meadows Lane, and Wonderland Drive. Perhaps Frosty Acres is found down Starvation Flat Road near Poverty Basin. One name that could startle the heck out of the. driver was the turnoff in the Warner Mountains of northeastern California for “Needle Mines.” What? Needles come from factories, not dirt roads in the high desert. But then again, there are obsidian needles, inches long worn weathered volcanic glass slivers, that can be dug out of erupted materials. Those were the needles deserving of a road signs. (By the way, the needles makes great wind chimes.)

Graphic road signs were fun. We saw Mama bears with baby bears on crossings signs along with Big Horn Sheep, Pronghorns, and every variety of cow. “Slow Horses on Roadway” and “Cows on Road Next 50 Miles” were evident. Warning signs in cold areas said “Watch for Ice When Lights Flashing” and “Don’t Pass Snowplow on Right.”

Starting in California for some strange reason hubby and I had never driven up Highway 45 on the west side of the Sacramento River north of highway 20 from Colusa. Doing so we saw signs for business’ we don’t see here near the coast. How about commercial duck plucking? Vector Control for gopher solutions might eliminate the need for Orchard Removal. “Farm to Face” restaurants might get their ingredients from “On the Ranch” meat processing for wild game, cattle, pork, sheep and goats. Instead of Taco Trucks we saw a “East Coast Food” truck offering Philadelphia Cheese Steak sandwiches, chowder, and cream soda. Vineyards and wineries had distillery in their signs now.

Can anyone explain why we saw more huge goat herds than ever before? And what was the never-ending fascination with palm trees in the Central Valley? Lining driveways for a half mile in places were OLD palms, very tall or very fat. We saw more arrays of solar panels than ever before and distribution centers for places like Wal-Mart have wind turbines next to the facility. Many isolated farms in very rural areas had solar panel instillations.

Spring had sprung in the Central Valley with walnut orchards blending into almonds and then olives driving north. Wildflowers were in bloom.The further north traveled the less spring blossoms’ seen. It was still winter in Oregon with ice floes in semi-frozen lakes and stock ponds. Snowy mountain ranges were reflected in high desert shallow lakes. Snow covered the road embankments but highways were dry.

Beautiful country abounds with areas of highway that have no fences along the road. No fences equate with nothing of value to be contained, but the beauty of the natural environment is priceless. This is the kind of area that builds platforms atop utility poles so Bald Eagles, Osprey and hawks have a place to nest. A Bald Eagle flew right along side our car. Also seen were llamas, magpies, wild swans and a dead coyote over a fence.

The rockhounding highlight of the trip was a place along Highway 20 in Oregon between Bend and Burns. A geologic prominence called Glass Buttes is named for the deposits of liquid lava that hardens into glass. Millions of years old there’s about 2,000 feet of it stacked along the road and it produced knapped arrowheads and spearpoints for many native tribes. It comes in a variety of textures and colors reflecting sheens of silver, gold and rainbows within the rock.

Thirty five years ago was the last time we’d visited and, of course, could not find our way to the place where we’d collected football size pieces of obsidian. The land is a maze of dirt tracks covering hundreds of acres and every wide spot offers interesting samples. We drove almost to the top of Big Glass Butte and could see 80 miles west to the Cascades and east to Idaho it seemed. What amazed us were small pieces of the obsidian that looked water smoothed and worn, and we were over 6,000’ in elevation. A lot of geologic uplift happens in central Oregon’s high deserts. We collected obsidian samples for every kid in my grandson’s Comptche School and will share our adventure with them.

And that “Lost Forest”? It’s northeast of Christmas Valley with hundreds of acres of pine and juniper and it is more than 40 miles from the Cascade Mountain forests to the west. It’s protected by the BLM and a camping area for off road recreation areas of sand dunes. It’s next to Fossil Lake, which of course has no water left, but once it did. The dry lake bed is a non-motorized area but you can walk in and sure enough, there are bones in the sand. Bones of what? And how fossilized? We don’t know—but we brought a few tiny bones home—could have been from a robin that died last year, but paleontologists we’re not, just curious rockhounds.

So if travelers ever find themselves in south central Oregon there are mountains of obsidian lots of wide open spaces awaiting the curious. It’s well worth the trip.

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